As the world we live in is designed for and mostly run by extroverts, being an introvert may feel like being a square peg jammed in a round hole. As you’re navigating daily life at school, work, or social settings, you may have always wondered if there is something wrong with you, as your thoughts, feelings, and preferences don’t seem to match those of the people around you. These feelings will be especially intense if you were raised in a more extroverted family where your parents or siblings were faster, louder, more competitive, more assertive or aggressive…just plain better at fitting in.
The first thing to know about being an introvert is that there is absolutely nothing wrong with you. You simply function differently than your more extroverted counterparts. While extroverts certainly have important contributions to make, there are many valuable yet often-overlooked things that introverts do best. It takes both types living and working in harmony to make the world go around.
The key to being a happy and fulfilled introvert is taking care of yourself in the ways that YOU need, even if that looks different that what society is telling you that you should need. Although people may have been trying to change you your whole life into a more extroverted version of yourself, rest assured that such a pursuit is bound to be fruitless. There is no point in trying to force yourself to change at that fundamental level, although there are coping tips that can help you thrive as you go about your business in the extrovert world.
In this article, let’s go over some concrete things you can start doing on a daily basis to nurture yourself, replenish your energy stores, better cope with demands of daily life, and just embrace being an introvert. First, let’s make sure we are on the same page by delineating what it means to be an introvert and contrast that with being an extrovert. Then, we’ll move on to practical tips for introvert self-care to help you thrive.
Being an Introvert versus Being an Extrovert
Although there are definitely people that swing in both directions depending on the situation, most of us clearly fall on one side or the other of the introvert-extrovert continuum. At the most basic level, introverts are rejuvenated by time spent facing inward away from outside stimulation. Extroverts, on the other hand, are replenished by outside stimulation. While extroverts have no problem interacting with many people, small talk, or the fast pace of modern life, introverts find these things overstimulating.
An introvert’s energy is drained by social interactions. It’s not that we don’t like people; it’s just that we are slower to recover from the expenditure of energy required in interactions and they often come at us faster than our nervous systems can handle. We are also highly focused people that may have a hard time coping with distractions or the requirement to multitask. Our productivity can be derailed by someone (or as is often the case, several “someones”) stopping by with a “quick question” or the barrage of text messages and smartphone notifications often coming our way. Extroverts cope well with these things and may even find they stimulate their energy levels and creativity.
Tips for Making the Most of Being an Introvert
We introverts have amazing traits such as being creative, idealistic, empathetic, reflective, and thoughtful. However, you can’t pour from an empty cup. We need to develop strategies for self-care that allow us to refill that cup, so to speak. Some of these strategies may run counter to what friends and family members do for self-care or recreation; remember that it’s OK to be different. Experiment with the following introvert self-care tips for and find what works for you.
Schedule Adequate Downtime
Time and space to recover inner resources is the single most important thing an introvert can do for themselves. Give yourself permission to schedule downtime, and realize that you may need more downtime than others. Extroverts function well on less downtime, but that’s not your problem. First and foremost, you owe it to yourself to get adequate rest, and secondarily, you will be better able to help others when your own cup is full.
Think of your downtime on both a small scale and a large scale. Every day, schedule breaks where you can completely tune out of outside demands and take some time to replenish. Here are a few ideas for mini-breaks and extended breaks you can schedule into your work day or school day to help take care of yourself.
If You Only Have 10-15 minutes
If You Have 30 minutes
If You Have an Hour or Two
As introverts, we need to be especially mindful about the way small distractions can drain our energy. We will feel exhausted and unproductive if our flow is interrupted too frequently. Some of us have jobs where this is unavoidable; in this case, the tips above on scheduling adequate downtime throughout the day are especially important.
Be sure to go into setting and turn off application notifications on your smartphone, unless they are essential to your tasks. Be especially mindful of social media, such as Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, etc. These bite-size chunks of info constantly intruding on your mind can add up to very draining if you don’t limit your exposure. Put your phone on do not disturb mode whenever possible so that you are not always having your attention drawn to texts, calls, and app notifications. Unless something is time-sensitive, return contacts on your own time.
At work or school, when possible, limit your availability to other people so that you can focus. If you have an office door, close it during certain times and hang up a “do not disturb” sign that says when you will next be available. At school, find a corner of the library where you can work uninterrupted. Find small getaways throughout the day where you can just decompress, especially if you are in a job where you interact with a lot of people, or have a lot of group projects assigned at school.
Install a nature sounds app on your smartphone that you can pop in when you’re in busy settings to help soothe you and get you in the zone. Nature sounds or white noise may help you focus better than music does if you’re working on a project in a public setting. Don’t forget your headphones!
Get the Right Amount of Social Time
Even introverts need some social stimulation and healthy human interaction. Your task as an introvert is to find the sweet spot where it’s not so much you feel drained and not so little you feel isolated. Introverts may struggle to meet and interact with new people and fall into hermit-like patterns.
It’s OK to be less social that is the societal norm, but it’s not healthy to completely withdraw from the world. Remember that when it comes to relationships, quality is far more important than quantity. Focus on developing and maintaining relationships with a few trusted friends and/or family members rather than being everything to everyone. Let the people in your life know that it’s not personal when you need to take alone time. Those that love you and care about you will (or should) understand.
Take it Easy on Sugar, Caffeine, and Alcohol
Before you immediately close this tab, rest assured that I’m not going to tell you to give up on these things altogether. Just be smart about your consumption of these substances and notice the effect they have on you. Drink lots of water to avoid dehydration, which can be a major culprit for tiredness, headaches, and exacerbation of anxiety. And limit sugar, caffeine, and alcohol for the reasons I’ll go over in each section below.
Taking care of yourself nutritionally speaking is key for introverts. Obviously, nutrition is a huge topic…and not every person has exactly the same nutritional needs. So let’s keep it simple and just go over a few easy tips related to sugar consumption. Limiting sugar consumption is a big part of stabilizing daily energy levels for introverts. Simple sugars are metabolized quickly, giving you a burst of energy followed by a big slump that intensifies feelings of being drained, tired, and unfocused. Introverts may be particularly prone to the negative effects of a sugar crash. Avoid frequent consumption of foods high in simple carbohydrates throughout the day; these things include cookies, muffins, white bread, white pasta, candy, and (obviously) added sugars such as table sugar and honey. Instead, make sure the cornerstones of your diet are lean protein, good fats, and complex carbs. Complex carbs metabolize more slowly and help your energy levels stay stable rather than following a boom and bust pattern. Good sources of slow-burn carbs include whole wheat, brown rice, quinoa, yogurt, and veggies. Watch out for processed foods, which are often hiding tons of sugar.
Many of us introverts rely on caffeine throughout the day to become “pretend extroverts”; that is, to force ourselves out of our own heads and make it easier to interact with the outside world. A caffeine boost may make it easier to perform your work, school, or family obligations. The downside is that caffeine is a double-edged sword. Excessive caffeine use can cause side effects that actually set you back, such as anxiety and irritability, as well as headaches, dehydration, upset stomach, and even heart palpitations. Thus, if you choose to use caffeine, it’s wise to limit quantities and consider timing. Since introverts generally have sensitive nervous systems, caffeine late in the day can interfere with sleep timing and sleep quality.
Introverts may be prone to overuse of alcohol as well. For one thing, alcohol is a social lubricant that dulls the anxiety many of us experience in social situations, making us feel more “normal”. Alcohol use lowers our inhibitions and makes conversations with people we don’t know very well easier to initiate and maintain. We may also be prone to overindulgence in alcohol at home to numb the anxiety and depression many of us experience when we’re not taking good care of ourselves in day to day life. While moderate alcohol consumption is just fine for most people, too much alcohol can cause physical and emotional dependence, depression, relationship problems, and hangovers that steal your energy for days afterward. Since introverts need more time and self-care to replenish their inner resources, drinking too much can be particularly pernicious since you’re lumping in yet another thing for your body to recover from.
Pack an Introvert Survival Kit
If you have a long day of work, school, or socialization ahead of you, be sure to lay in some supplies. You can keep your survival kit in your car, purse, backpack, or a drawer in your office. No one needs to know about it but you. I have a zipper pouch specifically for this purpose that I stash in my car. Suggested introvert survival supplies include the following:
Being an Introvert: The Bottom Line
Above all, remember that there is nothing wrong with being an introvert. It is completely natural to be an introvert; about one third and even up to one half of people in the world are introverts too. In a society overrun with extroverts and with workplaces, schools, and recreation spots designed with the extrovert ideal in mind, it’s easy for an introvert to feel out of place, overwhelmed, and drained. However, if you practice good self-care, it’s possible to not only survive, but thrive.
Craig is the founder of LifeGuider, he is dedicated to improving not only himself but also others in being more physically fit and mentally capable of handling life’s challenges. He is not your regular life coach, no fancy clothes or fast cars, just a regular “Ole Joe” who has experienced the ups and downs of life like everyone else.
Introverts everywhere, get ready to shudder your way through this article. If you fall anywhere…